If you were asked what the single most important factor is in a healthy eating plan, do you know what it would be?
The most critical factor you need to in order for your plan to be succesful is meal preparation. That’s right, preparation is half the battle when it comes to reaching your goals. Life is busy, and if you aren’t planning and preparing your meals out ahead of time, the chances that you stick with your plan on those extra-hectic days will be virtually zero. That’s why learning how to master meal prep is so beneficial. It’ll help keep you on track no matter what your day brings, and makes the entire process less stressful.
Furthermore, if done right, it can also significantly reduce the total time you need to spend in the kitchen preparing your food. This also eliminates the second most common excuse people use for not following their diet; lack of time. Eating healthy really doesn’t need to take much more time than eating in your unhealthy ways as long as you have a smart game plan in place.
Let’s look at five secrets to meal prep success that you need to learn to know.
Invest In Good Tupperware Containers
First things first, if you are going to start preparing a number of meals in advance, you need to have a place to put those meals. It’s important that you package your food in individual serving sized containers after it’s prepared because that will allow you to simply ‘grab and go’. No extra thought required. If you have to dish up your food, weighing and measuring it as you do, this adds an extra layer of time to the preparation process, which can be enough to throw some people entirely off course.
You want to find Tupperware containers that have a very solid seal to prevent leaks, and preferably one that can be placed in both the microwave and dishwasher. This makes using those meals extra-easy. As you search for the Tupperware, try and find ones that are BPA free to ensure you are getting the safest meals possible. BPA is an industrial chemical that is often used in plastic containers and can seep out, potentially causing you harm to brain health.
Utilise Slow Cooking Often
The next tip that you need to make use of is to make good friends with a slow cooker (often called a crockpot).
These are excellent for creating large batches of food because first, they are so large themselves. You can easily fit in five or six servings of food in these (or more!), so they’ll feed you for the entire week ahead. Second, they’re also very easy to use. You simply toss in all the ingredients you plan to use in the morning, turn them on, and by the time you come home from work, you’ll have that meal all ready to go. This is very good news for those who lead an ultra-busy lifestyle. You might even consider investing in two crockpots so that you can make two dishes simultaneously. Then all you need to do upon getting home is portion them into your Tupperware containers and you’ll be all set.
Another nice thing about slow cooking is that you do not have to use much in the way of oils or condiments as you cook – a few herbs along with your main ingredients will flavor the food very nicely, so it’s a great lean way to prepare your dishes when aiming for fat loss results.
Choose Wise Bulk-Recipes
You need to know the best bulk-cooking recipes out there. While you can simply prepare the normal ‘healthy’ style meals by grilling up six or eight chicken breasts, making a large pot of brown rice and then serving this with some steamed vegetables of your choice, you may find you quickly grow bored of this. Eating healthy doesn’t need to mean eating very simple and rather bland meals. It just means you need to know what recipes you can make large batches ahead of time and then use later on in the week.
Some great healthy options include soups and stews, both of which provide an excellent opportunity to increase your vegetable intake easily, while also getting in a good dose of lean protein and complex carbohydrates (especially if using beans or sweet potatoes in these dishes). As the food is generally softer in both of these dishes to begin with, it won’t taste much different when reheated the second time around. Salads are also great in bulk as no cooking (other than your main protein component) is required, so they’re a fast and easy option when you need it most. Just do keep in mind most salads will lose their fresh taste after two or three days in the fridge, so that’s likely all you can make ahead for these ones.
Keep in mind that you can also make portions of recipes ahead of time as well and then easily assemble them as needed. For instance, you might prepare some taco filling using ground turkey rather than beef to keep it healthy. Then, all you need to do is take the filling and place it in a whole wheat soft taco shell along with your salsa, lettuce, and any other ingredients you may choose to use.
Likewise, you can also prepare a large batch of healthy spaghetti sauce, again using ground turkey and add it over some freshly made whole wheat pasta if your carbohydrate intake is on the higher side. Casseroles are also great make-ahead dishes and tend to last for quite a few days. With the many different healthy recipes now available online, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be livening up your diet so that you can stay both nutritionally and psychologically satisfied on your plan.
Know What You Can And Cannot Freeze
Another quick tip to know is what you can and cannot freeze. If you choose to freeze your food, you can take meal preparation one step further, really making for some easy weeknight meals. All you’ll need to do is prepare the dish and then place it into freezer safe containers, putting those in the freezer so you just need to pull them out when needed. It’ll work just the same as any frozen dinner meal, only be that much healthier.
In general, you can freeze almost any protein source except for fish and eggs. Those won’t work as well frozen, so you’re better off preparing those fresh. But chicken, steak, ham, or pork are all great options for freezing. You can also freeze rice quite well, either on its own or as part of a mixed dish like a casserole. Whole wheat pasta will freeze okay, however it will be on the slightly soggy side after reheating it. Since pasta is quite quick and easy to cook fresh, you might just prefer to make this as needed. Certain vegetables also tend to freeze better than others. Corn, peas, onions, mushrooms, carrots, tomatoes, and cauliflower all tend to work great frozen. On the other hand, broccoli, zucchini, and peppers aren’t as great frozen as they tend to get more soggy when reheated, so you may want to exclude those in frozen meals. If you don’t mind that slightly soggy taste or plan on only slightly cooking them before freezing, then you can freeze those as well. Cooked sweet potatoes can also be easily frozen.
Learn To Multi-Task
Finally, the last tip is to learn the power of multi-tasking. If you aren’t using a slow cooker, focus on trying to do many things simultaneously to cut back how much total time you need for the meal prep process.
For instance, while your fish or chicken is baking, use the time to start your rice in a rice cooker (which is the simplest method of cooking rice). Then, once that’s going, you can use the remaining time to cut vegetables to put in a salad for example.
If you can manage to do three or four things at once rather than one by one, you’ll get through a full week’s worth of meals in no time. The same goes for learning how to prepare and cook multiple meats at once – you could be baking chicken while pan-frying some lean steak and boiling eggs all at the same time as well. Once you become a master of multi-tasking, meal prep will become a breeze.
So start getting into the habit of planning and preparing your meals ahead of time. The better you are at this, the easier it will be to stay the course on your healthy eating plan.
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